Hello sunshine!

We’re making the most of a stretch of sparkling spring days with tea parties, egg hunts, and fun-packed afternoons with friends. I’m sure the rain will send us inside soon. See you then….

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Celebrate the First Day of Spring

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Finally . . . the first day of spring is March 20! Here are some simple ways to celebrate.

Explore

Go on a hike and identify wildflowers if some are sprouting in your area. Or visit a local farm and see if you can get a glimpse of calves, lambs, or chicks in the barnyard.

Play

Fly a kite. Or make dandelion or clover chains and wear them as spring crowns.

Gather

Hunt for spring flowers, cherry buds, egg shells, a bird’s nest, and other signs of spring. Decorate the house with crocuses, daffodils, tulips, or dandelions.

Observe

Watch the sun rise and set. (You can find out what time it will rise here.)

Plant

Sow seeds. Have each family member pick a favorite flower to plant. Designate a special garden, and make a ceremony of it.

Read

Check out this list of novels “where the characters blossom and where there is hope in the midst of struggles, like flowers on bare branches.”

And don’t forget about the kids. Some of my family’s favorite spring picture-books are: Spring: An Alphabet Acrostic by Steven Schur, Spring by Ron Hirschi, and Home for a Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown. We also enjoy reading aloud from The Spring Equinox: Celebrating the Greening of the Earth by Ellen Jackson.

Eat

Make a spring feast with the first crops of the season. Dandelion leaves, steamed nettles, and asparagus are delicious spring greens. Other traditional spring foods include eggs, ham, and sweets. Eat outside if weather permits, or have a picnic on a blanket in the living room.

Make

Attract birds to your yard by making these easy Audubon-approved bird feeders out of peanut butter and bird seed.

Or create your own traditions to welcome spring this Thursday.

Resources for seasonal celebrations:

The Artful Spring by Jean Van’t Hul
Ceremonies of the Seasons by Jennifer Cole
The Spring Equinox: Celebrate the Greening of the Earth by Ellen Jackson
Together: Creating Family Traditions by Rondi Hillstrom Davis and Janell Sewall Oakes
The Creative Family by Amanda Blake Soule

Do you have plans or ideas for how to celebrate spring this year? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

A Morning at the Pumpkin Patch

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We are just two weeks away from launching my dad’s anthology … and we are busy! But we’re also having a blast. After working in many corners of the book world for more than a decade, I’m completely hooked on publishing. I’ll have so much more to share with you about the process once I have a moment to catch my breath.

This weekend we managed to take a morning off to make our annual trek to choose the perfect pumpkin. I hope you too are getting some opportunities to enjoy this beautiful season.

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Hello Fall

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“Summer ends, and Autumn comes, and he who would have it otherwise would have high tide always and a full moon every night.” ― Hal Borland

Yesterday was the first day of fall. To celebrate, we went on one of our favorite hikes, stopped at the bakery on the way home, and made a feast of red lentil dahl for dinner. It’s raining, our pumpkins are bright orange, and we’re well into the back-to-school routine. Yet still, I can’t quite believe summer’s over.

It’s Ezra’s last year at home before kindergarten, and something about that makes this season feel even more fleeting than usual. We go on morning adventures every chance we get, and I try to memorize the way the boys look as they ride their bikes and run together, how their hair glows in the autumn sunshine.

We’re savoring the bumper crop of figs on our neighborhood trees, the strangely lovely smell of our neighbors’ rotting apples, and the taste of the last sun-ripened tomatoes. It feels like we may be in for an early and soggy winter this year. I’m both looking forward to a quieter season and missing the one past, which I suppose is what autumn’s all about.

I’ve decided to celebrate the cooler weather by reading lots of novels. If you’d like to join me, here are some book lists. I’ve also just discovered the wonder of sending long-form essays to my Kindle. I’m in love!

I hope you too are enjoying these first fall days.

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The Cost of Things

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The past two weekends, my neighbors held a yard sale. Apparently my boys could smell commerce happening nearby, because within moments of awakening, they were at the window. “The neighbor has a tent on his lawn,” Ezra announced. Both boys spent most of the weekends outside asking questions and fondling nicknacks or glued to the window watching people come and go.

“We need a canoe.” “Ball next door!” “Mom, can we go look at the games again?” “My boat.” They managed to tote home a number of odd things from the free box, including a stained white plastic ball that looks like it came from the antenna of a Jeep, a telephone that would have been state-of-the-art when I was Ezra’s age, and a wide-brimmed hat that fits no one in the house.

These finds joined other relics that Ezra’s lugged home over the years, including a couple of other land-line telephones, a broken audio cassette recorder, and a microphone. Apparently our compulsion to collect stuff starts at a young age, and it only seems to escalate from there. On our recent camping trip, I was amazed by all the things people bring to “get away from it all” – super-sized motorhomes, patio furniture, dog beds and crates and yards. Of course, we toted our share of stuff back and forth from our car, although fortunately we were severely constricted by its compact size.

It’s not that I don’t love stuff. Every time I turn on my washing machine, drop into my bed at the end of the day, or turn on my computer, I am thankful for the material things that make our lives better. My goal is not necessarily to have less. I’m not on a mission to pare my belongings to 100 things as many bloggers have amazingly done. I just want to be intentional about what I bring into my life. I want to spend my money, time, and attention on things that bring me happiness and satisfaction. And I want to try to keep in mind a purchase’s entire life cycle: where did it come from and where will it end up?

In this issue of YES! Magazine (all about the “Human Cost of Stuff”) Annie Leonard says it well: “I’m neither for nor against stuff. I like stuff it’s well-made, honestly marketed, used for a long time, and at the end of its life recycled in a way that doesn’t trash the planet, poison people, or exploit workers. Our stuff should not be artifacts of indulgence and disposability, like toys that are forgotten 15 minutes after the wrapping comes off, but things that are both practical and meaningful.” (My review of Judy Wicks’ Good Morning, Beautiful Business is also in this issue. Check it out if you see a copy!)

Visiting second-hand stores helps me be more intentional about new purchases. All those cluttered shelves of hardly used, outdated appliances helps take the sheen off the marketing and shiny newness in box and department stores. Recently Ezra and I wandered through several used stores together. He’s been wanting a Leap Pad learning system, because he loves playing with his friend’s, and I heard used stores tend to have vast quantities of them. When the first three stores didn’t have one, Ezra was desperate to bring home something – anything. He insisted he would be happy with a pair of butterfly wings, a toy cash register, or a toy laptop instead of a Leap Pad. I convinced him to wait until we checked out the last store.

They had exactly what Ezra wanted, and it was just $5. “I’m so glad we waited,” Ezra beamed as he hugged his new Leap Pad. I’m hoping he learned something about being intentional about purchases. And for now, fortunately, the yard sales are over; please don’t let any of our neighbors open an ice cream cart.

Do you try to be intentional about your purchases? Do you have any tips to share? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

August Field Notes

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August must have been the shortest month in history. At least, that’s how it felt for us as we swirled through a whirlwind of conferences, parties, birthdays, and projects. Fortunately, we also took some time out for a much-needed relaxing family camping trip just a few feet from the Pacific Ocean and a lovely hike in one of our favorite spots. I managed to capture some photographic evidence from those adventures, which I’ll share below.

What happened to the big New Urban Habitat revamp, you may be wondering. Well, change is coming! But, for a myriad of reasons, I’m postponing it until after I launch my dad’s anthology in November. Stay tuned….

For now I’m excited to be back to regular posting. I missed you all!

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Did you have any August adventures? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Celebrate Summer

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Thursday, June 20 is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. The sun will bathe the Arctic Circle in 24 hours of daylight, and ancient monuments around the world will align with the sun.

Seasonal celebrations can be easy and fun. Here are a few simple ideas for welcoming summer this year:

Celebrate

  • Place a bouquet of roses, lilies, or daisies in your family members’ bedrooms while they sleep, so they wake to fresh summer flowers.
  • Find a special place outside to watch the sunrise and sunset. You can find out what time the sun will rise and set where you live here.
  • Eat breakfast outside.
  • Trace each other’s shadows throughout the day to note the sun’s long trip across the sky.
  • Display summer decorations: seashells, flowers, sand dollars, or whatever symbolizes summer in your family.
  • Play outside games, watercolor, or decorate the sidewalks with chalk until the sun sets.

Explore, Plant, or Gather

  • Gather Saint John’s Wort. Traditionally Europeans harvested these cheerful yellow flowers on the first day of summer, dried them, and made them into a tea on the first day of winter. The tea supposedly brought the summer sunniness into the dark winter days. If you don’t have any Saint John’s Wort in your garden, you might consider planting it. It is  a useful herb, and it thrives in poor soil with little attention. Find out more about it here.
  • Visit a U-pick farm to harvest strawberries, snap peas, or whatever is in season where you live. Find a “pick your own” farm near you here.
  • Take a camping trip. Light a fire at night to celebrate the warmth of the sun. Sleep outside. Wake with the sun.
  • Go on a nature hike. Bring along guidebooks to help you identify birds, butterflies, mushrooms, or wildflowers.

Eat

  • Make a summer feast. Eat exclusively from your garden or the farmer’s market to celebrate the bounties of summer in your area.
  • Host a “locavore” potluck.

Read

  • Read aloud from The Summer Solstice by Ellen Jackson.
  • Read aloud, watch, or put on your own rendition of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. For kids, check out the book A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Kids by Lois Burdett or Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Kids: 3 melodramatic plays for 3 group sizes by Brendan P. Kelso.

Wishing you a happy first day of summer!

Need more inspiration for your summer celebration? Check out these resources:

How do you plan to celebrate the first day of summer? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

[Note: Do you read New Urban Habitat on Google Reader? It will be shut down soon. You can sign up on my blog to have my weekly posts delivered to your inbox.]

Lessons From the Garden

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“Can we plant the pumpkins this day?”

“Let’s go see if the peas are growing!”

“Mom, the chickens are in the garden again.”

Oh yes, those are the sounds of spring around here. It’s our fifth year growing vegetables in our backyard. It’s amazing how much easier it is than that first April, when seven months pregnant, I dragged my husband out to help me dig a garden bed in our brand-new backyard. I wish I’d heeded the wisdom of permaculturists, who recommend observing and analyzing a site for an entire year before planting a single seed … and also the wisdom of my body, which wasn’t happy about my grand gardening visions.

Those are just two of the hard-earned lessons I’ve learned from five years of gardening. Except for one summer of gardening in Colorado several years ago, my husband and I are gardening newbies. My dad planted a vegetable garden for one season when I was a kid, and it was one of the most thrilling summers of my life. I couldn’t wait to go outside every morning to see what was growing. I knew I would be a vegetable gardener someday, and during the many years my husband and I spent renting and moving around, I longed to get my hands in the soil.

I wasn’t a natural.

Those first few years, I labored over my garden plans for hours while studying Steve Solomon’s Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades. I’m thankful for all I’ve learned from that book, and from others. I still refer to books. But even for a word lover like me, gardening is one of those things you learn by doing. And, oh, how I’ve learned.

My first big lesson: I’m not really in charge.

Yes, I can plant at a certain time and mix the fertilizer. I can water or not water. I can fence the chickens away from the first tender sprouts. But I’m collaborating with the weather, the rain, the soil, the wildlife, bugs, insects, and bees. There’s a certain amount of surrender involved.

Over the years I’ve surrendered to stunted squash, wilted cabbage, and unripe tomatoes. To chickens shredding the lettuce, bugs eating the spinach, kids eating the cherry tomatoes.

I’ve learned to let go of perfection.

My next big lesson: gardens have healing powers.

For a couple of seasons, gardening became a chore. Work. I’d trudge out and dutifully plant the seeds and water. I’d mix my fertilizer and mindlessly sprinkle the soil with it.

I believed in growing my own food. I wanted to harvest vegetables from my back yard. But I’m not sure I loved the actual gardening part.

Last spring, overwhelmed with caring for a three-year-old and an infant, I wasn’t sure if I’d plant a garden at all.

“Maybe it’s a good year to let our plots lay fallow,” I announced in March.

But, at the end of April, I got a great deal on a bunch of starts and planted.

Then my dad died.

I spent much of June in Colorado. And when I came back, it was incredibly uplifting to see the peas twisting up their trellises and the lettuce, rainbow chard, spinach, carrots, and heirloom tomatoes crowding their beds, reaching for the sun.

I spent so many hours with those plants over the next few months, watering and weeding, watching and listening, sitting.

I was surprised a few weeks ago when I pulled out my gardening journal. Every season I meticulously record what I plant, what’s growing and what’s not, when I fertilize, etc. Last year, I didn’t jot down a single note after April 29.

And yet, I learned more from gardening than ever before.

The garden is the perfect place to grieve. Quiet, buzzing with bees, bursting with life. The plants have so much to tell us about life and death, about patience, about just being.

Now, as I embark on my fifth growing season, I feel no sense of duty. No obligation. I only feel grateful and excited.

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What lessons have you learned from your garden? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Celebrating Spring

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We’re bringing in the season this week with lots of gardening, hiking, and spring cleaning. Here are a few scenes from our hike this weekend.

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We also plan to do some biking, now that we’ve inducted the newest member into our bicycling clan.

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Happy spring to you!

Welcome Spring

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“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”
― Margaret Atwood, Bluebeard’s Egg

The spring equinox is this Wednesday. What a perfect time to celebrate longer days, warmer weather, and blossoming trees and flowers. Here are some ideas for simple ways to observe the day:

Observe and Explore

Watch the sun rise and set. Visit a farm to catch a glimpse of the adorable lambs, calves, and chicks. Go for a hike and identify wildflowers. Learn about the plants and trees on your block or in your yard.

Celebrate

Arrange a bouquet of crocuses, daffodils, tulips, or dandelions for your kids or partner to wake up to. Go on a picnic. Eat dinner by candlelight.

Play

Fly a kite. Blow bubbles. Draw birds. Collect bugs. Run around barefoot.

Plant

If it’s time to sow seeds where you live, designate a place for each member of the family to plant a favorite vegetable or flower in honor of spring. Or, plant a hanging flower basket or window planter.

Make

Make a spring crown out of dandelion or clover chains. Get creative with some spring arts and crafts. Decorate hard-boiled eggs with natural dyes. (Try beets, cranberries, blackberries, or raspberries for red; yellow-onion skins or turmeric for yellow; parsley, spinach, or red-onion skins for green; blueberries for blue; and coffee, pecan hulls, or black-walnut hulls for brown. Or experiment with whatever is coming up in your backyard.)

Read

Read aloud from The Spring Equinox: Celebrating the Greening of the Earth by Ellen Jackson. Check out these ten spring reads for kids aged 0 to 9. Browse Publisher’s Weekly’s list of The Most Anticipated Books of Spring 2013.

Eat

Prepare a spring feast with the first crops of the season. Dandelion leaves, steamed nettles, and asparagus are delicious spring greens. Other traditional spring foods include eggs, ham, and sweets.

Reflect

Spring is a time for rebirth and new beginnings. What’s ready to grow in your life?